25 April 2008
DFA asks Senate to defer vote on JPEPA
by ARIES RUFO
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has asked the Senate to defer consideration of the controversial free trade agreement between the Philippines and Japan so that it can comply with the conditions set by the Senate for its ratification.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, in a brief letter dated April 23 to Santiago, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the committee to "defer consideration of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA)."
He said this would alow the DFA to "explore the appropriate exchange of notes between the Government of Japan and the Philippines" on the JPEPA.
The JPEPA needs 16 votes to be ratified. An exchange of notes reflecting the assurances the Senate wants would help it get more support from the opposition-dominated Senate.
Romulo did not cite any reason for the request but it was apparently triggered by Santiago’s move to recommend conditional concurrence on the treaty.
As if on cue, Santiago said Friday she will postpone the JPEPA’s sponsorship before the Senate plenary originally scheduled on Monday but cited a different reason.
"The senators are asking for time to study the full committee report. In this case, the senators told me that they find it hard to understand the resolution and its annexes. I don’t blame them because it is so technical," Santiago said.
Senate committee conditions
On Monday, Santiago filed a committee report urging the Senate concurrence on JPEPA but with certain conditions.
She said the conditions intends to make sure that the treaty will observe the constitutional provisions on various fields such as health, protection of Filipino enterprises, ownership of public lands and use of natural resources, ownership of alienable public lands, ownership of private lands, reservation of certain areas of investment to Filipinos, and giving preference in the national economy and patrimony.
The conditions also seek to regulate foreign investments, operation of public utilities, preferential use of Filipino labor and materials, practice of professions, ownership of educational institutions, state regulation of transfer of technology, ownership of mass media as well as of advertising firms.
The conditions also make reservations for future exceptions to at least three treaty articles that deal with national treatment, most-favored nation treatment, and prohibition of performance requirements.
"The condition regulates three clauses: a national treatment clause accords Japanese the same rights as those accorded to Filipinos while a most-favored nation clause between the two states provides that each state will treat the other as well as any other state that is given preferential treatment; and a performance requirement imposes certain conditions for investment activities in the Philippines, such as to achieve a given level of domestic content, give preference to goods or services produced in the country, or to hire a given level of Filipinos," Santiago said.
These conditions, Santiago said, are necessary to protect private ownership of land as well as the sectors listed in the Foreign Negative Investment List and the policy under the Labor Code of hiring Filipinos first.
"The basic issue with JPEPA was that the advantages were in favor of Japan, but not necessarily for the Philippines. Another issue was that JPEPA failed to include reservations that Japan has already conceded to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. We just want equal treatment," Santiago said.
Conditional concurrence debate
Colleagues in the Senate criticized the proposed conditional concurrence, arguing that there is no such a thing. They said the Senate could either just ratify the treaty or reject it.
But Santiago argued that the Constitution itself has no provision either expressly allowing or disallowing a conditional concurrence. "The rule in constitutional construction is that where the law does not distinguish, courts should not distinguish. The Constitution gives to the Senate the power of concurrence. Thus, it implicitly gives the power of conditional concurrence. This is the practice in the United States," she said in endorsing the committee report.
Critics of JPEPA are lobbying for the rejection of the treaty on the ground that it will allow Japan to dump its toxic wastes in the country.
Senator Pia Cayetano, for one has pointed out that Japan has refused to sign the Basal Ban agreement, which prevents developed countries from dumping electronic wastes to developing countries.
"It’s scary because we are negotiating with a country that has kept its doors open to the possibility of sending its toxic waste to a developing country," Cayetano said
The Arroyo government had hoped to have the JPEPA ratified by December 2007 so that Filipino health workers would already be able to work in Japan in early 2008.
A more open Japanese labor market in was one of the concessions granted by Japan to the Philippines.
Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, chair of the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce, had warned that rejecting the JPEPA would be "bad for the country."
"Our neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia also have their own treaties with Japan like JPEPA. If we don’t join them, the Japanese manufacturing companies will go to them instead," said Roxas.
Roxas also said the treaty won’t worsen the rice problem. He said Filipino farmers will even be given more opportunities "because there will be lower or no tariffs on agricultural products going to Japan."
Romulo's letter to the Senate follows:
THE SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES
23 April 2008
Dear Senator Santiago,
May I have the honor to request the Committee on Foreign Relations to defer consideration of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) in order to allow the Deparment to explore appropriate exchange of notes between the Government of Japan and the Philippins relating to the same. Please accept the renewed assurances of my highes consideration.
HON. MIRIAM DEFENSOR SANTIAGO
Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations